Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Any franchise that’s as old as Castlevania has tried to reboot, re-imagine, or reinvigorate itself in one-way or another. Technology, story telling, and game tastes have all been a factor in changing the way a modern game is made. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is in no way an exception to this rule, and the ‘Take what works today” mentality is clearly evident in this new reboot by Mecurysteam and Kojima Productions. Borrowing gameplay mechanics from other popular franchises might not make Castlevania: LoS a unique game, but blending those mechanics with a myriad of other interesting elements does make it a fun and worthwhile experience.

The main formula of Castlevania doesn’t change in this reboot. You’ll swing your trusty whip here and there, the handy sub-weapons are always at your disposal, and the ghouls, trolls, werewolves, and other mythical beasts are lush and begging to be ripped open. The changes that are new to the series, though, aren’t exactly new to the average gamer. The combat is heavily inspired by the God of War series, so much so that during one of the many Quick-time-events in the game you’ll wonder if your playing as vampire hero Gabriel Belmont or Spartan warrior Kratos. Similar to God of War, you buy and learn new combos for your whip, find power-ups to expand your life and magic meters, and mow down foe after foe with brutal viciousness. Even though the combat can be a little tiresome in some areas, especially when the waves of enemies don’t stop, it’s definitely one of the best parts of the game.  The game has a great variety of enemies to tackle and each boss or sub-boss that gets introduced is always a white-knuckle experience. You’ll have your whip and sub-weapons to get you through the combat, but it’s the magic system that really makes the combat fun. The game has two available magic powers that Gabriel can call upon, the blue magic for regenerating your life per successful hit and the red magic for a substantial boost in damage, both of which are available to you at any time given you have the right colored magic to spare. This balance is always fun to play with and consistently helped change the tide of battle. Both powers are great to rely on when you wanted to build some health back during a long fight, or to deal some massive damage to give you some breathing room. The combo system wasn’t really that engaging to me and I usually just relied on a few combos that I used over and over again. If you are a combo lover, then I would suggest the direct attack combo upgrades were Gabriel cracks his whip in succession and ending in a devastating crash, or the Chain Saw upgrade in which the whip turns into a venerable spinning blade. It bears repeating that the combat can be stale in a few areas, especially when you just want to progress through the game.  It doesn’t happen that often because of the variety of enemies you face, but it would have been nice if a few of those waves were cut for time sake.

With the exception of a few instances, the Belmonts have traditionally been indoor vampire killers. Castlevania: LoS changes the formula significantly by not taking place solely inside a well-constructed castle. The game will take you to so many great locations with awe inspiring vistas that it’s nearly impossible not to stop and take it all in. Mecurysteam helps fill in all the locales by including several other gameplay elements into the mix. Uncharted style platforming is heavily used in this game, and really frames a lot of the beautiful scenery. They even throw in a few skyscraper size monsters to scale similarly to Shadow of the Colossus to build some welcome tension in the game. But all this leads to the biggest crux of the entire experience; the game ends up feeling too long for its own good. The game ends very near the 20 hour mark, long for a Castlevania game and significantly long for a 3d action game. Much like the combat, the wall scaling and ledge hopping can get tedious in some areas and really hampers the pace of the game. There aren’t a lot of giant monsters to scale either but one particular creature was so huge it felt more like scaling a wall then killing a mammoth beast, and didn’t really add much to the experience. I don’t have a problem with developers being inspired by other games, but they should understand that more doesn’t always mean better. The game would have highly benefited from cutting a few pieces out and leaving them for a sequel. I would have preferred some of the puzzle instances to be completely re-edited, as these are by far the worst implemented elements in the game. I found myself more often than not solving a puzzle by accident or by spending an enormous amount of time running around trying to figure out what I need to do, only to conclude that the game wants me to use a specific skill in such a way that’s never made clear. It would take an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis suffering genius to make the leaps in logic this game asks of you in some cases. (It’s Stephen Hawking, in case you’re not getting the reference).

I enjoyed my time with Castlevania: LoS and it keeps me coming back for more even after I finished the main story as each level you beat unlocks a challenge mode you can go back and complete for trophies/achievements. The game may not feel like a traditional Castlevania game with all the variety that’s sprinkled through, but it still contains enough of its roots for any fan of the series to enjoy. This is especially true with the soundtrack, which for a series whose soundtrack is next to none, Lords of Shadow delivers. Even the narration done by Patrick Stewart during the loading screens is a nice homage of the melodramatic fiction that usually accompanies the series. Or the mini bio that unlocks for each new enemy that you face. It’s basically a wikipedia entry filled with devilishly fun factoids about all the creatures you slaughter, something even a tweeny Twilight fan would salivate over.  There’s no denying that the game borrows a lot of gameplay elements from other series, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game. There is plenty of variety to keep the player engaged and it should speak volumes to the developers when your main complaint is that there is too much to see and do in one game. This is just, unfortunately, a game too feature rich for its own good and just a cut away from being perfect.

Purchase @ $50

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